The Nest Learning Thermostat created the smart home as we know it today when it launched in 2011. Not only did it transform a previously dull and merely practical device into something sleek, beautiful, and fun to use, Nest also set out from the beginning to reduce carbon emissions from energy waste, saving people 10-15% on their bills in the process. The handy smartphone app coupled with AI that learns users’ preferences made the thermostat an instant hit.
This month we trace the evolution of the Nest Learning Thermostat from within using our Lumafield Neptune CT scanner, guided by none other than Tony Fadell, the inventor of the iPod and founder of Nest.
In Tony’s book Build, he recalls how “the packaging led everything,” pushing the team at Nest to distill the essentials of the thermostat into the box’s limited space. Someone picking it up in the store had to immediately grasp the reason they needed to invite this new gadget into their home. But beneath this warmly approachable exterior lies a world of sophisticated and innovative engineering.
Even more important than revolutionizing the thermostat was revolutionizing the installation of the thermostat. Up to this point, installation was so complicated that it required a professional. The team at Nest wanted their product to be so easy to install that anyone could do it. Let’s start with the base–a deceptively simple disc with a built-in level optimized for wall mounting.
To ensure ease of installation, Nest engineers invested in custom leaf spring connectors that detected when a wire was inserted and could make or break contact with the circuit board.
These leaf springs allowed for the self-configuration of the unit, saving the time and troubleshooting that would have prevented a regular person from tackling installation. And it worked! It was so simple that grandparents were making YouTube videos of themselves installing it.
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The iconic brushed stainless steel ring—a design feature that persists throughout the first three generations of the thermostat—stays cool to the touch and makes adjusting the thermostat a joy.
You might be surprised to hear Tony Fadell advocate cutting corners, but that’s exactly what the Nest team did when they boldly asked their LCD supplier to chamfer two of the screen’s edges. This allowed the screen to take up more room on the face of the thermostat while also keeping the overall size of the device from becoming unwieldy for the user.
In another feat of precision engineering, the springs around the perimeter of the thermostat had to click the same exact way when pressed from any angle.
At the lower edge of the face is a subtle grille. It ensures airflow and the accurate reading of ambient temperature without interference from the device’s internal heat.
Beneath the grille, you’ll find sensors that detect when someone comes near the device, causing it to automatically light up. The rest of the time, it blends right into the background.
One of Nest’s most trailblazing features was its incorporation of Thread, an advanced low-power and low-latency IP6-based mesh network that allows smart home devices to communicate directly with one another. It has since become the industry standard and is now used by Apple, Amazon, and Google products. This visionary adaptive technology ensured the longevity of the thermostat, allowing users to keep it as a part of their homes for years to come.
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Nest released their Generation 2 thermostat just a year after the debut of the first version.
The team refined their design significantly, making it a quarter-inch thinner and replacing the temperature and presence sensors with new ones that no longer required a grille for airflow.
On the exterior, the most notable change is the removal of the plastic skirt around the bezel, leaving a clean, all-steel border on the device. Internally, Nest’s engineers removed extra parts from the leaf springs to enhance the clicking mechanism, making it less expensive to produce and more reliable.
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Three years after Generation 2, Nest’s third iteration shows the product reaching maturity. Slightly smaller than its predecessor, the Gen 3 nonetheless has a significantly larger screen.
To achieve this LCD expansion, it became necessary to cut even more corners; now all four are chamfered, reducing the size of the bezel around the screen.
With the decrease in overall size of the device came an increased need for more sensitive internal temperature sensors. It was now more vital than ever to distinguish between the varying temperatures inside and outside of the thermostat. But as in the first generation, the magic remains in the deceivingly simple user experience.
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